On screen

On screen is the most visible side to New Zealand’s screen production industry. The information presented on screen has the potential to influence millions of people. There are a number of opportunities for this influence to have a positive effect on the environment; from a character placing a drink can in a recycling bin to a storyline with an environmental message. The suggestions below were developed to assist writers and producers in assessing when and how environmental messages can be incorporated in productions. Several countries, including New Zealand, organise environmental film festivals to raise awareness of environmental issues and promote environmental responsibility.


Educate staff about basic environmental issues so that ideas for the set, characters and storyline arise creatively from writers, producers, directors, actors and technicians.
Consider appropriate ways of greening the storyline, e.g. a scene involving teenage children taking their parents to task for not separating recyclables from the waste.
Take appropriate action behind the scenes where negative environmental messages are screened, e.g. soapy water is seen going down a storm water drain when a car is washed on set – have storm water drains covered on set to prevent contamination actually occurring.

As writers and producers become more environmentally aware, appropriate opportunities for addressing environmental issues within the storyline will arise spontaneously. Environmental messages that flow naturally are likely to influence the audience more effectively than contrived messages. In some cases negative environmental messages will be a deliberate part of the storyline e.g. diesel poured on a suburban street to depict certain car manoeuvres. In this instance it is crucial that the production take all measures necessary to prevent actual damage to the environment e.g. the correct permissions from local authorities should be obtained, the location selected should be away from residential areas where smoke and air pollution can cause adverse health effects, storm water drains should be covered, all fuel should be cleaned up using specialised spill kits and the production should consider hiring an environmental professional to be present on set to deal with any other adverse impacts. It would also be essential to shoot the sequence with as few re-takes as possible to limit the resources consumed and the environmental risks. Without appropriate measures in place productions will come under severe criticism for failing to protect the environment.

Environmental Messages in the Storyline

Two characters on Shortland Street debate an overseas corporate trip to educate staff on climate change.

The feature film The Whale Rider received great critical acclaim for the strong cultural and environmental messages woven through the storyline and the imagery.

Films such as Happy Feet and WALL-E attract young audiences with their lovable characters and humour, but at the heart of their storylines is a strong environmental message about the impact humans have on the planet.

OUTLOOK FOR SOMEDAY is a sustainability film challenge for young New Zealanders. Filmmakers must be under 20 and their films must be no longer than 5 minutes long. Winning films are broadcast on TVNZ6. Outlook for Someday organisers have created sustainability guides to help film makers progress from a great idea to a great short film.
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